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Descriptions of the legal system for assessment - Switzerland

National/Federal level

At the federal level, neither legislation nor administrative bodies govern public education. Education lies within the authority and responsibility of the Cantons. Therefore, there are no educational regulations at the federal level with respect to assessment. Nonetheless, the federal social security legislation has considerable impact on assessment as it controls the funding of special education as part of the Federal Disability Insurance Scheme (Invalidity Insurance, see below).

Additionally, the Constitution sets out some general guidelines regarding the organisation of education. 


The Constitution makes some general statements related to the overall goal of education, and requires the implementation of measures for the equalisation of opportunities and the elimination of discrimination or disadvantages: 

  • «Nobody shall suffer discrimination, particularly on grounds of origin, race, sex, age, language, social position, lifestyle, religious, philosophical or political convictions, or because of a physical or mental disability.» (Constitution, Art. 8.2)
  • «Legislation shall provide for measures to eliminate disadvantages affecting disabled people.» (Constitution, Art. 8.4)
  • «The right to adequate and free primary education is guaranteed.» (Constitution, Art. 19)
  • «The Confederation and the Cantons shall strive to ensure that, in addition to personal responsibility and private initiative, children and young people and people of working age shall benefit from initial and continuing education according to their abilities.» (Constitution, Art. 41.1.f)
  • «Education falls under the authority of the cantons.» (Constitution, Art. 62.1) 

The constitution does not grant the legal basis for individual rights. These rights can be derived from the national or cantonal legislation. According to the principle of subsidiarity, federal authorities in a lot of matters (including the educational system) merely set up a large scale legal framework. The implementation is delegated to the Cantons or even to communities, i.e. as near as possible to the level where action is taken. 

Federal Law

The Federal Disability Insurance Scheme, the Invalidity Insurance (IV) was established in the 1960’s at a time when the right to education for children with disabilities was not fully established. The Insurance scheme was aimed at people who were unable to work as a result of a disability. It also covered children with disabilities and supported their education with a view to them gaining greater independence as adults and increasing their chance of entering the job market. 

There are two forms of contributions of the Invalidity Insurance (IV):

  • Individual contributions for Special Needs Education (SNE) and rehabilitation measures;
  • Collective contributions to institutions working within the framework set out by the legislation, paying for construction, running costs and the continuing education of professional staff. 

The financing of SNE depends on whether the pupil or the institution is recognised by the Invalidity Insurance or not. If a person is recognised by the Invalidity Insurance, the Insurance pays for educational measures up to the age of 20. Assessment therefore is an important process in evaluating whether a child falls within the legislation of the IV and therefore is entitled to individual support and to being admitted to special institutions, financed (partially) by the IV. 

In a federal vote in November 2004, Switzerland approved a new scheme governing the funding mechanisms between the Confederation and the Cantons. As part of this scheme called “Reorganisation of Financial Equalisation RFE” the responsibility for financing special education is transferred from the federation to the cantons. Probably by 2008, the cantons will be solely responsible for funding, not only regular education, but special education as well. While such a financial “inclusion” of special education is welcomed, there are fears that the current high level of funding may not be sustainable in some cantons. Therefore, the development and implementation of national standards for Special Needs Education is high on the agenda of special needs education advocates and special education institutions. The goal is to engage and commit the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (see below) to this development. 

Inter-cantonal level

As described earlier, compulsory education falls within the authority of the Cantons (Constitution, Art. 62.1). At the federal level, legislation exists only for post-compulsory education which is co-ordinated together with the Cantons (Vocational Education, Higher Education). To ensure a certain coherence and compatibility between the Cantonal education systems, the Cantons have created an inter-cantonal body, called the Swiss Conference of the Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK). The EDK co-ordinates educational matters to ensure a cohesive national development of the education systems in Switzerland. Yet it does not have authority over the individual cantons and can not implement laws without the approval of all the cantons. 

The general framework for compulsory education has been outlined in article 2 of the “Konkordat über die Schulkoordination” approved by all cantons in 1970 (in German) and therefore rendered binding on all cantons. The EDK coordinates and heads up the project to develop a scheme to organise the Canton-based financing of Special Needs Education SNE after the RFE (Reorganisation of Financial Equalisation) comes into effect. 

Cantonal level

In each canton the respective Ministry of Education has the authority to organise the Cantonal education system (supremacy of education).

The cantons have far-reaching authority to organise regular and special needs education and assessment. They are free to develop their own curricula, their own procedures in testing and evaluating and of providing special support. But in most of the cantons the professional opinion of a school psychologist is required in order to receive additional support when special educational needs arise. 

Communal level

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the communities are also responsible for providing compulsory education. Local school authorities (school boards) provide school buildings and are responsible for hiring teachers, organising special services and therefore also for establishing eligibility for special needs education. Within the broad legislation of the Canton, they are free to organise and provide education   according to local needs. This authority includes the organisation of assessment procedures (initial and on-going assessment). Some communities choose to jointly co-ordinate services related to assessment and provision of special educational support. Depending on the expertise and preferences of the professionals involved in setting up and carrying out these procedures, diverse approaches and various instruments may be noted at the communal level.

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